Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
The first of August, the anniversary of Emancipation, is not an event but a process. It should be of significance not only to those of afro-Caribbean heritage but for all who stand with the causes of liberty, equality and fraternity.
It is important to note that this great day did not come about merely by act of parliament.
It was, as depicted in the Bussa statue, the culmination of a process and the struggle by the enslaved and agitation by those who supported their quest for freedom.
Mandela held that, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
Emancipation is not just a historic moment but a lived reality for freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.
Freedom is not something we pass on to our children via our DNA; it must be fought for, protected, and handed on.
I want to give some context to how I approach Emancipation. I have African, Asian and English heritage, which means I exist at the harrowing intersection of coloniser, colonised and enslaved.
My life and career have been devoted to the pursuit of inclusivity, justice and integrity for the public good.
Recently, I fought for Bajans and other West Indians in the UK with the Windrush Scandal and thereafter for the cause of Black Americans and indigenous peoples with the Black Lives Matter movement. Most recently, I have sought to protect democracy and freedom in this fair land of ours.
Notwithstanding, people seek to judge me based on how I look, or how I sound, or where I live. Notwithstanding, I hold to that dream that we will not be judged by colour or class or gender or orientation but by the content of our character.
There are three truly significant civic days in Barbados: i) Emancipation Day, when we secured liberty from a racist, slave society; ii)
The Day of National Significance which commemorates the struggle for equality with the then ruling minority elite; and iii) Independence Day when we left colonial premises and entered the fraternity of nations, holding our heads high in the world, as people worthy of respect.
We should not be divided as a people by race or class or gender. Our hearts, as stated in our Anthem, should be bound from coast to coast by the pride of nationhood. But even as we resolve those lingering historic impediments, we need to be wary of a new threat, of a new division emerging in this fair land of ours, between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.
It was reported that on the Day of National Significance the Prime Minister declared that the government “will make amendments to facilitate that transition to a new president to be sworn in on November 30 of this year; and…we start from December 1, the journey of the settlement of the new Constitution of Barbados which will be the subject of extensive consultation and communication with the people of this nation.”
The freedom of any people never was, nor ever will be, secure, once the transactions of their leaders are concealed from them.
Becoming a republic should be the expressed will of the people not the wish of any political leader.
The Prime Minister needs to square her recent declaration on republicanism against the previous assurance she gave, as reported in the Nation Newspaper, that Barbadians will have their say on whether the country becomes a republic or not.
In the 26 November 2007 article entitled ‘Still a Voice’, we were told by then Deputy Prime Minister Mottley, while accountable to then Prime Minister Owen Arthur, “we feel that it is the right thing to do to have a Barbadian head of state. We accept that there was a concern that the Government alone should not make that decision in this day and age, and we are therefore committed to expressing our views to the public and having them pass judgement on it.”
What changed since then that she now feels her government can make this decision alone? Becoming a republic should be the expressed will of the people not the wish of any political leader.
We should also be mindful that in the 2018 BLP manifesto, under the caption ‘Giving Bajans a Greater Say in National Affairs,’ we were assured that “The empowerment of people is central to the mission of the Barbados Labour Party.” We were promised an introduction of “National Dialogues, National Referenda and consulting with Barbadians on major national issues…” and “Obtaining the views of the public on issues such as Parliamentary Reform, fixed dates for elections and term limits for Prime Ministers.”
Again, what changed since then that she now feels her government can make this decision alone? Becoming a republic should be the expressed will of the people not the wish of any political leader.
As we commemorate Emancipation Day, we must agitate to ensure that the Government appreciates that governing is not the right to do as they please, but the opportunity to do what is right.
As we commemorate Emancipation Day, let us set aside the fear of speaking out, and, with the spirit of our forebearers, confront any emerging despotism, or authoritarianism.
As we commemorate Emancipation Day, let us reaffirm the cause of freedom; let us not waver; let us not tire; let us not falter, and if we so do, in strength and unity, we will not fail.
As we commemorate Emancipation Day, let us fight to persevere our Independence and the legacy of Errol Walton Barrow, a true hero of the people.
Guy Hewitt announced his candidature for the leadership of the DLP. He currently lives and works between Barbados and Florida and can be contacted at [email protected]